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Vaal Sand Goes

The board ratified the recommendation last week

Vaal courses

Vaal courses

Phumelela is to replace the problematic sand track at the Vaal with a turf surface in what is strategically the first step towards the installation of a synthetic racing surface in Johannesburg.

Turf is the best racing surface in summer, but on the Highveld during winter grass tracks become hard and divot repairs cause inconsistencies.

The need for an alternative racing surface to turf on the Highveld during winter was the reason for the introduction of the Vaal sand track in 2001. Unfortunately, the sand track has been dogged by a range of opinions and criticisms, and replacing the top layer of washed river sand with unwashed river sand a few years back at the request of horsemen has exacerbated, rather than resolved, the problems.

It’s also dubious whether the Vaal sand track is environmentally or commercially sustainable into the future. The track requires copious volumes of water that are currently freely available from the Vaal River, but that may not be the case in years to come.

Taking all factors into account, plus that replacing the entire top layer of sand on the track again would not necessarily solve the problems, Phumelela management first consulted with a cross section of trainers and then recommended to the Phumelela board that the sand be replaced with turf.

The board ratified the recommendation last week and the sand track will be closed after the last of six meetings scheduled there in October.

The sand will then be lifted and stockpiled for use elsewhere. Once the sand is lifted from the 60,000 square metre track, work will begin on creating a suitable medium for grass to grow in. The new grass has already been ordered and is scheduled to be laid in January.

The configuration of the track will remain unchanged and all going well the first race meeting on the track will be held in May next year.

It’s a similar timeframe to replacing the grass on the Turffontein standside track last year, a project that was successfully completed within three months.

Phumelela's Patrick Davis

Phumelela’s Patrick Davis

“An enormous amount of energy, money and time has gone into the Vaal sand track down the years, but the complaints are endless and it’s unlikely that all stakeholders will ever be satisfied. Plus the sustainability of the track is questionable,” said Phumelela Horseracing Executive Patrick Davis.

“The best long-term solution is to replace the sand with turf and once the new turf track is proven as a racing surface, the way will then be open to replace the existing inside turf surface at Turffontein with a synthetic surface like Polytrack. Such a surface will solve winter going issues on the Highveld and lessen the pressure on the turf tracks and the number of race meetings lost to rain,” Davis added.

Replacing the sand with turf will result in race meetings that would have been run on sand during the transition period having to be switched to the two existing Vaal turf tracks and the Turffontein standside and inside tracks.

The bulk of these meetings will be held on the Turffontein inside track, which will consequently not be fully reconditioned during spring this year in order to be ready for racing earlier than normal.

“It’s a real challenge but my team has spent days planning how best to deal with it and we are confident that the extra meetings can be accommodated on the turf tracks without compromising the going. And we have a bit of flexibility that the new Vaal turf track may be ready before next May if the weather is favourable,” Davis said.

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5 comments on “Vaal Sand Goes

  1. Rod Mattheyse says:

    I would be interested to know how the vote at The Racing Association went when this was tabled.

    All owners with horses that only perform on the sand are now denied earning opportunities. I might be wrong but I would think that the racing association would like their members to be able to earn. Never mind it’s only 20% of the population.

    We have Gold Circle who can’t manage a grass patch and Phumelela battling with a sand pit.

  2. Ant says:

    I agree fully with you . There is a population of racehorses that revile in the sand . Now they will only be able to earn in kimberly . off course some will argue that sand horses may act on the poly but that may not be 100% correct .

    Perhaps they should have considered laying the same sand which flamingo races on . That surface has generally been very consistent and the track manager there needs to be aplauded for his work .

  3. kenny says:

    I think this is great news and long overdue, well done to those that finally had the balls to make the call.

  4. Jess K says:

    The Operators’ mission to close down as many tracks and surfaces as possible carries on unabated. How many is that now ?

  5. Brett Maselle says:

    A direct quotation from the minutes of the Racing Association AGM on 19 November 2001 (some 13 odd years ago):

    “Messrs Brugman, Ninow, R Blank and G Blank, with the approval from others present, placed on record that they believed Phumelela management was incompetent in that a decision had been taken to build a sand track at the Vaal and a second grass track at Turffontein rather than use the available funds for marketing. The comments were noted”

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